Writing for Yourself

by Site Author

A few years ago, a friend of mine, a hedge fund manager, started his own blog. He wrote about his trading strategies, how he expected the market to move, and the financial news of the day.

I asked him why he bothered to blog at all. Wouldn’t the blog give his competitors a leg up? Wouldn’t it be a source of embarrassment if he made some bad calls? Wouldn’t it become a distraction?

He told me that the kind of investing he does doesn’t require secrecy. His fund makes big bets on currencies and sovereign debt. Most of the time, the bets are too obvious or the securities too big for secrecy to matter. If anything, he told me, he benefits from having visitors to his blog leave feedback in the comments. Over time, the blog attracted a following of investors around the world.

More importantly, he found that the practice of writing helped clarify his thinking. It helped him plot out his trades and come to terms with the reasoning behind his trading strategy.

What my friend came to realize is something many have already learned: writing is thinking. And so Bill Gates writes and self-publishes reviews of nearly every book he reads. And so Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, requires that his employees write narrative memos in lieu of PowerPoint presentations.

Before any discussion begins, members of [Bezos’s] team — including Bezos — consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes. (Yes, the e-ink purveyor prefers paper. Ironic, no?) They scribble notes in the margins while the authors of the memos wait for Bezos and his minions to finish reading.

Amazon executives call these documents “narratives,” and even Bezos realizes that for the uninitiated — and fans of the PowerPoint presentation — the process is a bit odd. “For new employees, it’s a strange initial experience,” he tells Fortune. “They’re just not accustomed to sitting silently in a room and doing study hall with a bunch of executives.” Bezos says the act of communal reading guarantees the group’s undivided attention. Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master. “Full sentences are harder to write,” he says. “They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Andy Grove used to do something similar:

Legendary CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, takes Bezos’s view on writing up a notch. Grove considered written reports vital because “the author is forced to be more precise than he might be verbally.” In fact, he considered the whole exercise of writing “more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information”, so much so that his ultimate conviction was that “writing the report is important; reading it often is not.”

It’s now been six years since my friend started his blog. He started the blog when he was still single, when he had lots of free time. Now, he has two kids, a house in the suburbs, a long commute. And he’s still blogging.